Note to the Reader: I wrote this short story from my actual experience in basic training. It was an assignment in the only english class I had in college. Enjoy.
From the moment we arrived at Ft. Leonardwood for Basic Combat Training for the US Army we were treated well. Of course leaving our homes and families was difficult, and Missouri was very different from our home states, but on the whole we were adjusting well. We were a group of about 250 soon to be soldiers, who came from all over the country. Some of us were dark, some light, some short, some tall, some thin some thick, some male, and some female. We were a patchwork quilt unit. We all came to “Reception Battalion” where all soldiers begin. It was like kindergarten for soldiers because there were two Drill Sergeants who took care of us. They made sure we got all of our new uniforms, our shots, our haircuts, and our meals. They were pleasant enough, but we were bored after a week of daycare, and were ready to move on. Reception was boring and we wished we could start doing something interesting. We got our wish.
On one particularly hot day in July, we all lined up in formation on the asphalt, “black top”. It was so hot in fact, that the asphalt was melting away like our individuality. Our boots stuck to the steaming surface. We were all anticipating what was going to happen. The “baby-sitters” said that our unit was coming to pick us up. We were excited. Finally, something was going to happen. Several large trucks appeared on the horizon. The heat blurred their image. We heard them better than we could see them. They made a loud rumbling sound that could be heard from quite a distance.
“Here they come,” one of our baby-sitters said, “I hope ya’ll are ready.” The man chuckled when he spoke as if he knew something we didn’t. His laughter began to make us nervous. We all watched together as the trucks slowly approached. Many of us shifted our feet, and looked around at each other. The trucks were getting closer. We all stared silently at the trucks. Drops of sweat rolled off our faces. Finally the trucks reached us and parked in rows across from our formation. There were about six trucks in all. We still just stared. Then some Drill Sergeants appeared from behind us, though from where exactly was unclear. All of them were broad, filling their uniforms with thick muscles. Their faces were dark and cold. No smiles or grins could be detected, and they scowled at us. Their uniforms were perfectly pressed and their boots reflected the sun’s glare. The men had large wide brimmed brown leather hats; the women had green ones. They let us know exactly what to do.
“Get in the trucks!” They yelled, “Move it! Move it! Move it! Get your butts in the trucks!” A few yelling Drill Sergeants shattered our organized formation. Everyone was running towards a truck. It was total pandemonium. We were all pushing and shoving, trying to get in the trucks as fast as we could, as if we would be shot for moving too slowly. Of course it wasn’t fast enough for the Drill Sergeants.
“Get on the trucks! Yer’ moving like pond water! Hurry up!” they continued yelling. We all climbed on the trucks; each of us carried a large duffel bag and a smaller one that carried our personal belongings. Finally, after much yelling we were all on the trucks. The Drill Sergeants slammed the doors shut and disappeared. We were glad for that, and let out a collective sigh, as if none of us had breathed since the arrival of the Drill Sergeants. We were all crammed tightly together in the large trucks. Images of the Holocaust came to our minds. Many of us were shaking. All of us were in shock. This was only the beginning.
The truck drove on… and on… and on. Finally it stopped. By now we had no idea where we were. The door swung open, and there standing at the opening was a large, thick sweaty, ugly man with a perfectly kept uniform, very shiny boots, and a wide brimmed brown leather hat. His uniform had “LOPEZ” written on it, but he did not introduce himself.
“Get out!” he yelled with a deep scratchy voice. Frozen with fear, we didn’t respond immediately. “NOW! MOVE IT!” We began leaping from the trucks, pouring out much like cockroaches released from a box. We clutched our duffel bags tightly to our bodies and ran. We did not know where we were running to, we only knew that walking was not an option. Fortunately for us there was another group of Drill Sergeants to guide us. All of them looked tough. All of them looked mean. All of them were loud.
“Stop! Where are you going?” one yelled. We froze. Before we could figure out where we were supposed to go he told us. “Go over there!” He commanded and pointed to another large area. We all looked to where he was pointing, still stopped in our tracks. “Line up! Move it! Go! Hurry up! Fall in!” We were running again. We ran as fast as we could in an attempt to avoid the wrath of the Drill Sergeants, which didn’t work, but it was the only thing we could think of to do. They yelled at us no matter how fast we moved. It was never fast enough.
As quickly as we had been scattered we reformed. A hurried mob formed into an organized formation again, all the while the Drill Sergeants yelled at us. Then suddenly it was quiet. They stared at us as if examining us for weaknesses. We weren’t allowed to move. We tried to stand still. Someone made eye contact with a Drill Sergeant, an unfortunate mistake.
“Don’t look at me Private!” he shouted getting in the face of the unfortunate soldier who looked at him. The Drill Sergeant was as close to the soldier’s face as his wide hat would allow. “Don’t ever look at me! Do you want to fight me?” The soldier began shaking. “Well? Do you think you can take me?”
“No Drill Sergeant,” the soldier stammered.
“I didn’t think so! Is there anyone here that thinks they can take me?” He paused for an answer, but one did not come. “Answer me!”
“No Drill Sergeant,” we answered in a weak, scared voice. “Maybe he likes you,” another Drill Sergeant suggested. Now he was really upset. “Is that it Private? Do you like me? You think I’m cute?” He questioned. The soldier’s eyes were wide like a deer in headlights; he began shaking his head violently in an attempt to deny the latest accusations. “No Drill Sergeant!”
“No!” the Drill Sergeant responded. “You don’t like me?” He glared at the private.
“No Drill Sergeant.”
“Why the hell not? I’m a likable guy”. Another soldier began laughing. This too was a mistake. The Drill Sergeant pounced on him like a lion on a fawn. “Am I funny to you private!?! Do I make you laugh!?! What did I say that you thought was so funny that you could just laugh in formation?”
“Nothing Drill Sergeant.”
“So I’m not funny?”
“No, I mean yes, I mean, I don’t know Drill Sergeant.” The Drill Sergeant could smell fear and it excited him. “Well what is it private? Do you think I’m funny?”
“No Drill Sergeant.”
“Well why the hell not. I have a great sense of humor. I got a joke for you. DO SOME PUSH-UPS!!!” The soldier fell to the ground as if a bomb had just gone off. The rest of us still stood frozen, trying not to attract any unwanted attention from the Drill Sergeants. A huge black man got up on a small platform with a megaphone. The man was massive, built like a freight train. Most of us had only seen men this big on TV. We were sure that that man could kill anyone of us if he wished it. No doubt he knew how and had done so before. The Drill sergeants were still circling our formation, periodically attacking us when something was out of line. The man spoke in a loud voice made metallic by the megaphone.
“I am your 1st Sergeant. Welcome to Basic Training.” He spoke slowly and purposefully making sure we all heard what he was saying. “In the next three months my Drill Sergeants will turn you bunch of lazy, sloppy, ugly losers into soldiers. It will not be easy, but if you do what you are told when you are told to do it you will all get through this. Forget about your homes and families. This is your new home, and the people around you are your new family. You will succeed together or you will fail together, but whatever you do, you will do it together. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Remember that, and now I will turn you over to my Drill Sergeants for the rest of the day. They are your new parents.” With that he completed his speech.
Without hesitation the Drill Sergeants began their assault. Barking orders, making us do push-ups and other exercises, taunting us, and testing us. They ripped us apart. Any courage we brought with us had failed. Any pride we brought with us was gone. Any wit, any grace, any confidence we brought had failed. They broke us down. The only thoughts we had were thoughts of trying to avoid punishment. Like animals we could only think about survival. It was amazing. Thinking was not necessary. They would tell us what to do from then on. We all came there different. We were from different states, different families, and even different cultures. Now we were the same. When we came there we were white, black, brown, yellow or red. Now we were all army green. We had little in common when we arrived. Now we all had something in common, survival. It was us versus them. That was how they wanted it. Once individuals, we were now one body, one mind, one unit, a unit of combat soldiers.